Broadcast Lobby Calls for Spectrum Inventory

WASHINGTON: The broadcast lobby is asking for a spectrum inventory once again after previous efforts failed to secure Congressional action. Gordon Smith, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, fired off a letter to co-chairs of the Federal Spectrum Working Group calling for a count.

“Unfortunately, neither Congress nor the American people have a clear understanding of what spectrum is being used, by whom and for what purpose,” Smith wrote to Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), co-chairs of the group. “As the government moves forward with broadcast incentive auctions, NAB respectfully requests that Congress be vigilant in safeguarding the rights of our local TV viewers during the process and further suggests that all spectrum license holders be held accountable for their use of valuable airwaves.”

Earlier this year, Congress authorized the Federal Communications Commission to conduct incentive auctions in which broadcasters would receive a portion of proceeds in return for voluntarily relinquishing spectrum. The NAB and other broadcast advocates unsuccessfully pressed for an inventory before that authorization was provided. Smith is resurrecting the issue following an article in The New York Timesdisputing claims of a “spectrum crisis.” The piece cites Martin Cooper, inventor of the cellphone and former vice president of Motorola, and David Isenberg, formerly of AT&T Labs Research, among others who said advanced technologies and new spectrum management methods would avert a shortage. However, implementing those strategies is not what wireless companies are after, they said.

“Their primary interest is not necessarily in making spectrum available, or in making wireless performance better. They want to make money,” the Times quoted Isenberg as saying.

In his letter to Guthrie and Matsui, Smith also noted that Citigroup questioned spectrum crisis claims last year. Jason Bazinet and Michael Rollins of Citigroup said they did “not believe the U.S. faces a spectrum shortage.” The wireless industry insists otherwise, however, and has federal regulators working on its behalf to provide more spectrum for wireless services.

In addition to these developments, it has also come to light that Verizon, Comcast, Dish Network and others hold significant quantities of undeveloped spectrum. Verizon most recently said it would sell the spectrum it won in the 2008 auctions of TV UHF channels to gain regulatory approval for the acquisition of preferable spectrum from a group of cable companies.

“These developments starkly demonstrate the lack of objective information when it comes to U.S. spectrum policy,” Smith wrote. “... without a full inventory and complete accounting of how spectrum is being deployed, how can we be certain that claims of a spectrum ‘crisis’ are valid? Are wireless companies simply hoarding spectrum to limit completion?”

Matsui and Guthrie was put in charge of the Federal Spectrum Working Group last month when it was formed by Reps. Anna Eschoo (D-Calif.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) “to examine how the federal government can use the nation’s airwaves more efficiently,” according to Eshoo. Members include Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Steve Scalise (R-La.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), John Barrow (D-Ga.), and Donna Christensen (D-V.I.). Walden, chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, and Eshoo, ranking member, will serve as ex-officio members.

Smith noted in his missive that the Working Group was formed primarily to examine how federal agencies use spectrum, but he urged them to include private sector use as well. Several spectrum inventory bills were introduced in Congress and in the Senate over the past two years, but none reached a full vote before FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced that a “baseline” inventory had been done. That baseline inventory was never made public. Sinclair Broadcasting maintained the press for an inventory despite Genachowski’s claims.

“America cannot get this back after it is sold. Congress should postpone any auction considerations until after a thorough spectrum audit is completed,” Sinclair’s Mark Aitken said last November, before auction authority was granted. The NAB had dropped the matter by then, but in light of recent “spectrum-crisis” counterclaims, Smith again took up the cause.

“If this country is truly facing what many are calling a spectrum ‘crisis,’ then Congress should require a comprehensive inventory that details who is using spectrum today,” he wrote.
~ Deborah D. McAdams

Smith’s letter to Guthrie and Matsui.

Carriers Warn of Crisis in Mobile Spectrum,” The New York Times, April 17, 2012

from TV Technology:
March 28, 2012:
FCC’s Auction Expert Firm Advised by Reed Hundt
Hundt, who headed the commission from 1993-97, said at a Columbia Business School event in 2010 that he an other regulators “decided in 1994 that the Internet should be the common medium in the United States and broadcast should not be.”

December 2, 2012:“Comcast, et al, Agree to Sell Spectrum to Verizon Wireless for $3.6 Billion”
Verizon Wireless has agreed to buy the advanced wireless spectrum held by SpectrumCo, LLC, a joint venture between Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks for $3.6 billion. 

November 1, 2011:“Sinclair Calls for Spectrum Inventory”
 “America cannot get this back after it is sold. Congress should postpone any auction considerations until after a thorough spectrum audit is completed.”

October 13, 2011:“Battle for Control of Airwaves Intensifies”
The broadcast and wireless lobbies briefly played nice this week to jointly oppose new spectrum fees, but the battle to control the airwaves waged on in the background. A consultant to the wireless industry today released a “counter analysis” to recently released Citigroup research refuting a spectrum shortage.

September 26, 2011:“Analyst” Spectrum Control is Constraining Supply”
Squatting is the main problem with spectrum, not a looming shortage. That’s the conclusion of a pair of analysts at Citigroup.

April 26, 2011:“Spectrum Crisis is ‘Science Fiction,” NAB’s Study Concludes”
The looming spectrum crisis is manufactured, according to a former Federal Communications Commission official. In a study commissioned by the National Association of Broadcasters, Uzoma Onyeije says the “spectrum crisis is factually revisionist.” 

March 3, 2011:“Kerry, Snowe Intro Spectrum Inventory and Incentive Auction Bill”
A bi-partisan bill ordering a spectrum inventory and authorizing TV spectrum incentive auctions was rolled out this week in the Senate. 

August 17, 2011:“Dingell and NAB Flame FCC Chairman for Withholding Spectrum Analysis Model”
Congressman John Dingell unfriended Julius Genachowski this week over the FCC chairman’s refusal to pony up the commission’s spectrum-analysis plan for auctioning off broadcast airwaves. 

June 20, 2011:“Congressman Asks FCC To Explain Its Spectrum Analysis Model”
John Dingell wants to know how many people would lose over-the-air TV if broadcasters lose 40 percent of their spectrum.

July 14, 2010:“FCC Chief Tells Lawmakers Spectrum Inventory is Underway”
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said work had already started on a radio frequency spectrum inventory.

November 17, 2009:Spectrum Comments Pour Into FCC
Commenters range from lobbies, think tanks, schools, phone companies, citizens, and the likes of the Waukesha County Department of Emergency Preparedness. 

March 20, 2009:“Spectrum Inventory Bill Introduced”
A bill to inventory U.S. airwaves was introduced today in the Senate.